Monday, April 15, 2019

I learned 10 things from Papa's death

Papa passed away the night of April 10, Wednesday. My younger brother Ted and younger sister Jacqui rushed him back to the hospital just before Tuesday midnight. He no longer had a heartbeat. He was no longer breathing but the ER staff worked for 25 minutes resuscitating him.

When I got to the hospital at 12:40am, Papa had his heartbeat back but he was hooked up to a ventilator to help him breathe. His eyes were still moving, the way eyes do when we sleep. His skin was warm and soft. He was still there. The monitor said his heart was getting stronger, his breathing was getting better, his blood pressure was stabilizing. So we talked to him, sang to him, prayed over him from midnight till 5am. Five hours of just standing around his bed, joking, crying, singing praise songs, praying, saying good-bye, telling him to keep fighting. Just 5 hours but was there ever a longer night?

At dawn, the doctors said he needed to get a CT scan to check for brain activity. So he was wheeled away but when he came back, I was afraid Papa was no longer with us. His eyes had stopped moving. His flesh felt different. And he was now cold. Maybe when he didn't hear or feel us anymore, his soul finally let go of the tether holding him to earth.

I wasn't the only one who saw things were different. The doctor who was so encouraging just moments before took one look at the scans and then said there was no need for the ICU anymore and that we can just wait in a regular room. Wait for...? Wait for family. Wait for the neurologist to tell us what the brain scan said. Wait for Papa to die. And that's what we did. A whole day of praying and singing and telling stories and hugging and crying and laughing and saying good-bye. Then when all the visitors have slipped away, the doctor and nurses came in Papa's room and we began the process of death.

I won't go into so many details of that final day and night. I'm just going to tell you guys things I've learned very recently. If you don't like morbid stuff, best to skip this post. I promise to return to regular programming next week! I have so many nice and wonderful things to share with you all.

But for now, please allow me to process my grief by letting me step back from the horror and love of the last 2 weeks. I just want to share the stuff that I learned from Papa's death:

I wasn't supposed to talk but... Oh well. 

1. Nurses are kind. Thank the Lord for nurses. When the doctor said there's no use talking to Papa because he was brain dead, the nurses said, "Wag kayong maniwala diyan! Kausapin niyo lang nang kausapin si Tatay. Sabihin niyo na mahal niyo siya." I know they know the doctor is correct but I also know they knew what our hearts needed. May God bless you forever, Papa's dear nurses. Thank you for going to Papa's wake, too.

2. I now know how dying is like. Well, at least with Papa, I do. Your heart beat slows down. Your blood pressure lowers. Your temperature goes up then plunges. Your body gets rid of fluid. Your breathing gets slower and farther apart. Papa was already unconscious and so he wasn't aware of anything. The nurses said if you're awake, you will slowly go into a deep sleep. There is no pain. Just blessed sleep. 

3. Doctors and nurses only stand witness when you remove your loved one from life support. I thought they were the ones who did it! Imagine our shock. And yet our relief, too, that we, instead of strangers, were the ones to bring Papa to the other side.

4. Unless you suspect murder and want an autopsy, it's best to have the body embalmed asap, while it's still soft. The longer you wait pala, the harder it is for the morticians to prepare the body for viewing. Mama looked so fresh because they prepared her within 2 hours of death. Because we couldn't call St Peter at 10pm (their office hours end at 6pm!), we had to wait till the morning and by then parang ayaw na ng St Peter. So we called Marian Memorial Chapels and sabi nila Papa's body was difficult to manipulate. They still did a good job! So we love Marian. They took good care of Mama 10 years ago. They took good care of Papa now. Thank you, Marian!

Papa's wake was full of song and laughter... and kids' playing!

5. I need to buy a death outfit. Before you think na napaka-shallow ko, guys, I've gone through this twice. Hindi na ako natuto the first time. It's so stressful, opening your loved one's closet and seeing, touching and smelling their clothes and knowing they're never going to be worn by your parent again. It's heart-shattering. But you wipe your tears and look for an outfit that will provide maximum coverage. Long sleeves, high neck, pants or long skirt, or skirt with 2 pairs of hose. The mortician says it's to cover dead skin. I have no suitable clothes for that occasion. I have to spare my family this terrible chore and just buy a death suit.

6. It's a good idea to have a folder in your computer where you can put your photos for the wake. It took us a while to comb through photos of Papa, looking for the photos that best represented his life. Vince and I have decided we'd have 3 kinds of photos: from when we were young (maybe 20s), a couple photo, and a few family photos. Then we'll just update the folder as we get older so that when we die, the kids won't have to go through hundreds of pictures and cry (or giggle).

7. Another good idea is to book 2 adjacent rooms at the funeral home, instead of just 1 big room. You get 2 kitchens and 2 comfort rooms. One for family, one for guests. It was a relief to have one little room for ourselves where we could leave all our things and nap when needed.

See me at the back? I'm always minding children!

8. Adobo lasts forever! Well, if it's covered in oil, that is. My Tita Alice Amper cooked a huge batch of the richest adobo we have ever tasted. It was pork and chicken and beef and liver all covered by thick sauce and a layer of mantika. We ate that for days! Sarap! God bless family who flooded us with food. At both my parents' wakes, we never had to worry about food. Who knows what I mean? I literally was amazed at all the food pouring in. People are so generous!

9. You can't bring home the funeral flowers. We received so many beautiful flower arrangements and I liked best the gorgeous one from my cousins Dash and Iza Calzado. I just wanted to put a few of the blooms and several broad-leaf palms in vases at my home. But everyone stopped me. "Ano ito—kasal?" (Actually, ang alam ko hindi rin pwede iuwi ang wedding flowers, diba.) "Malas kapag mag-uwi ka ng kahit ano sa lamay. Pagkain, bulaklak—lahat dapat iwan dito."   

10. Papa wanted to be cremated. After witnessing burials and a cremation, I prefer a burial. That said, if my family chooses to cremate me, that's okay, too. Cremation takes 1.5 hours to 2 hours at Heaven's Gate Antipolo. And we stayed there till Papa's ashes were given to us in an urn made and given by Lanelle Abueva-Fernando. Thank you for your gift!

At the crematorium. Ulilang lubos na kami.

I know this list sounds so strange but I still don't know how to process Papa's death. I've cried, but I don't think I've grieved. I don't know why my mind is putting it off. Maybe because Papa and I had just recently patched things up and my heart won't allow me to see just what I've lost. Maybe because after 2 full weeks of worry and crazy emotions, I'm too exhausted to feel anything. Maybe I just need to sleep. Or maybe I just need my Papa back.

*photos from my sister-in-law, Roselyn Legaspi-Amper


  1. My deepest sympathies, Frances...may your Papa's soul rest in peace.

    And might I add, my Lola passed away Sunday night and sa Marian din ang wake. They did such a wonderful job in making her beautiful, I was so happy to see her in her casket. It was like looking at her at how I remember she looks like when she was alive (she had stroke a few years ago and had dementia afterwards).

    1. Hugs hugs hugs, Cris! I love how Marian does such a good job with our loved ones' faces. It helps ease our pain.

      I hope you are surrounded by love at this difficult time. God bless you and your family!

    2. Like you, I don't think I'm processing this death as "normal" as others. I'm not yet grieving or cried. I guess I haven't fully absorbed what has happened. Thanks for the well wishes.

      God bless you.

    3. God help us when the grief finally hits us. Because it will come and we will be overwhelmed. But that is also a good thing, to finally open our hearts to that loss and love =)

  2. My condolences, Frances. You're a very strong person; I admire how you wrote this story beautifully!

    1. Thank you, Ace! It's just a list but thank you =)

  3. Hi Ms. Frances, I wanted to hug you so tight while reading your post. This is actually the first time that I am dropping in a comment. God bless your family. I am praying for your steadiness.

    1. Thank you for the first ever comment! =) That's okay. People usually don't leave comments anymore so I always love getting comments. Thank you!

  4. My deepest condolences, Ms. Frances. I wanted to give you a tight hug while reading this. Be strong.

    1. And thank you for the virtual tight hug. I felt it! =)

  5. Oh Frances, I am very sorry for your loss. Sending out hugs to you and your siblings.
    The items you listed are so true, I can attest to that after having gone through the deaths of my Mom, her Mama, and a paternal auntie last year. We even have an identical sibling picture post-cremation with the urn.

    I am glad you wrote and posted this because it helps rationalize this important albeit painful and bleak event in our lives. Death will touch everyone of us but in different degrees. Many of your readers will return to this article when the time inevitably comes and they will be thankful that it anchors them to reality. Many years later this will bring solace to others reading it seeing how you've come to accept your Papa's (and Mama's [sob]) death and moved on to write many, many more wonderful articles for us to learn and enjoy.

    1. Thanks, Megsky. I found an old blog post where you left a comment when your mom was still alive and you were going through so much pain. I felt grief for you. I hope you are finding joy in the every day =)

      Thanks for saying that this post is okay. I didn't think it was, hmm, appropriate, but it was what I wanted to write. I just needed to step away from the horror of the last 2 weeks. As a Christian, I know that death is a good thing as it leads to eternal life, but as a human being, I am still horrified at death. I just really needed to let my mind take over as my heart and spirit heals.


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